Stackhouse seeks second-straight win in Tuscaloosa

After defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide on the road last year, the Commodores look to repeat their performance and upset the top-team in the conference Saturday.

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Hunter Long

Max Evans rises up for a layup in Vanderbilt’s win over South Carolina. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long).

Andy Carr, Staff Writer

The Vanderbilt Commodores (6-11, 2-9) will face perhaps their biggest challenge of the season on Saturday afternoon, as they head to Tuscaloosa, AL to face the No. 8-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (17-5, 12-1)

In a tale of two programs, Alabama and Vanderbilt have had very different levels of success this unusual season. The Crimson Tide have solidified themselves as the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), losing just one conference game at the hands of the Missouri Tigers. As a result, Alabama sits comfortably atop the SEC by a three-game margin.

In just his second season at the helm, Alabama Head Coach Nate Oats has turned his team into an SEC frontrunner. Meanwhile, in Jerry Stackhouse’s second year as Vanderbilt head coach, the Commodores are last in the SEC with just two conference wins. 

Recently on Tuesday night, Vanderbilt came close in a home loss to Kentucky, but the Commodores couldn’t sustain the momentum from Saturday’s 72-51 win over Mississippi State. Alabama has won their last two games, but they have not played since Feb. 13 following the postponement of their most recent game against Texas A&M

 Saturday marks the first matchup between these two teams this season. Last season, the Commodores lost to the Crimson Tide at home 77-62 but avenged their defeat with a 87-79 victory on the road six weeks later. Vanderbilt leads the all-time series against Alabama 58-51. 

Alabama’s success so far this season can be attributed to its high-flying offense. They have averaged 80.8 points per game, good for third in the SEC behind Arkansas and LSU. In addition, the Crimson Tide have shot a conference-best 36.6% from the three-point line. Vanderbilt will have its hands full trying to defend the Crimson Tide’s three-point barrage, and the Commodores will likely rely on perimeter defense from the likes of guard Max Evans. 

The Crimson Tide have had consistent production from their starting five, but they are led by the trio of sophomore guard Jaden Shackleford, senior guard John Petty Jr. and senior forward Herbert Jones. Shackleford and Petty Jr. lead the team in scoring, averaging 13.9 and 13.4 points per game respectively, and Jones leads the team with 5.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Jones is a dual-threat because of his size. Not only can he score, but at  6’8”, 210 lbs, he consistently causes disruption on defense, leading the team with 1.1 blocks and 1.9 steals per game.

The Commodores have been led this year by sophomores Dylan Disu and Scotty Pippen Jr., but they are still looking for a consistent third shooter. When the team has had offensive production spread out amongst their starters, the Commodores have had success. In both conference victories this year, Maxwell Evans has scored at least 20 points and been the difference-maker that the Commodores needed. In addition, in the team’s most recent conference victory against Mississippi State, Clevon Brown scored 15 points; however, he was a non-factor in Tuesday night’s loss against Kentucky. The Commodores will need both Brown and Evans to shoulder a significant load if they hope to upset the Crimson Tide. 

One of the keys to Saturday’s matchup for Vanderbilt will be owning the paint. Offensively, Alabama has been very difficult to stop this season. Vanderbilt will need forwards Brown and Disu to grab as many boards as possible. In all five of Alabama’s losses this season, they have been outrebounded. Both Brown (6’8”, 232 lbs) and Disu (6’9”, 220 lbs) matchup well size-wise against Alabama’s forwards Jones (6’8”, 210 lbs) and Jordan Bruner (6’10”, 225 lbs). Disu leads the conference with 8.9 rebounds per game, but he will need the help of Brown this Saturday to keep the game within reach.

Another focus for Vanderbilt will be improving its shooting from beyond the arc. On Tuesday against Kentucky, Vanderbilt shot a meager 21% from three-point range. Those numbers will need to improve if the Commodores hope to keep pace with the best three-point shooting team in the SEC. 

Lastly, the Commodores should look to get to the foul line as much as possible. The Commodores are fifth in the SEC shooting 73.4% from the free-throw line, and getting the Crimson Tide in early foul trouble could be advantageous for the Commodores. 

Alabama is a heavy favorite in this matchup, as they have been dominant for the most part this season. However, the Crimson Tide have also had some headscratchers, such as their 73-71 loss to Western Kentucky back in December. With just four regular season games remaining this season, the Commodores will look to fight tooth and nail, as they try to grab as many wins as possible before the conference tournament.

 Securing a win against a talented team would be massive for the Commodores. Although they come into Saturday’s matchup as an underdog, don’t expect them to go away without a fight. This Saturday at noon, the Commodores will try to gain steam heading into the most crucial part of the season.